The Corner


The Greatest Song Ever Written

Gustav Mahler (Wikimedia Commons)

Hyperbole is part of a writer’s art, and a talker’s. WFB was a master of hyperbole. Once, in a book, he described his pool — an indoor swimming pool — as “the most beautiful pool this side of Pompeii.” This made a lot of readers burn (especially reviewers, I would say).

When I first saw the pool, I said, “Is that the most beautiful pool this side of Pompeii?” He grinned. (I think the pool had seen better days.)

Hyperbole is part of writing and talking, and so is understatement. And irony, sarcasm, subtlety, etc. Someone once said to me, not very pleased with something I had written, “Well, that’s an understatement.” I replied, “Yes. Understatement is one technique of a writer. It is one of the tools in his toolkit” — along with all the other things, including overstatement.

Late last season — the music season, I mean — I was sitting in Carnegie Hall with a friend, a conductor. The orchestra on stage was performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”). When it was over, as we were applauding, I turned to my friend and said, “Just the best thing ever written, no big deal.” He nodded firmly.

Did we really and truly mean “the best thing ever written”? More precisely, we meant “one of.” Mainly, it was a way of expressing appreciation, and awe.

Over the years, I have referred to a song — one of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder — as “the greatest song ever written.” I did it a few weeks ago, when reviewing a concert. I also mentioned a couple of other candidates.

I discuss these candidates, and play them, on my new Music for a While: here. I also have some other material for you. When it comes to songs, I probably should have included “Steal Away,” by Robbie Dupree (one of my all-time favorites) . . .

While we’re talking music: For a review of a chamber concert last Sunday, go here. Some interesting issues arise.

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